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  • A Basic Yoga Routine with Knee Strengthening Exercises

    Part 1 | Part 2

    Basic yoga routine including knee strengthening exercises: balancing on forefeet, balancing on outer edge of one foot, bound angle, shoulder lifts, dangle pose, table top, seated get up, standing forward bend, half moon, front triagle, triangle twist, side bend, triangle,  side angle, side plank variations, lunge, front split, side split prep, half side split, down dog, chaturanga, locust, down dog, crow pose. Neil Keleher. Sensational Yoga Poses.

    The initial part of this routine focuses on using the calf muscles to stabilize the knee. So that the calf muscles have a foundation from which to work on the knee joint the first two exercises focus on helping you to become more aware of your feet and how they press into the earth.

    Forefoot Balancing

    The first part of the routine is balancing on the forefeet.

    Shift your weight forwards while standing. Feel your forefeet pressing into the earth then lift your heels.

    Hold for a few breaths, relax and repeat.

    Balancing on forefeet with heels lifted. Neil Keleher. Sensational Yoga Poses.
    Balancing on one foot while focusing on pressing the outer edge of the foot into the floor. Neil Keleher. Sensational Yoga Poses.

    Pressing through the Side of the Foot

    For the next exercise, balancing on one foot, shift weight to one foot and lift the other.

    Focus on positioning your weight so that the blade of your foot presses into the floor.

    Do this without lifting the inner edge of the forefoot or heel.

    Seated General Warm Up

    Where the first part was to help you become aware of your feet, this next part serves as a general warm up to help you tune into (and prepare) the rest of your body.

    Bound Angle

    For bound angle sit feet together knees bent out to the sides. Press the edges of your feet into the floor. Start with one foot at a time, holding for a breath or two then relaxing. Then do both feet simultaneously and hold for five or so breaths.

    Bound angle while upright, pressing the edges of the feet into the floor. Neil Keleher. Sensational Yoga Poses.
    Staff pose with arms up, shoulders elevated, spine long, fingers and toes spread apart. Neil Keleher. Sensational Yoga Poses.

    Staff Pose with Arms Lifted

    With arms lifted in staff pose (legs straight ahead), spread toes and fingers. Lift your shoulders and lengthen your spine. Relax and repeat these actions.

    Initially just spread and then relax the toes. Then add the fingers. Then add the shoulder lift and then finally, add the spine lengthening action.

    Optional Knee activation

    With arms down in staff pose, engage your knees, one at a time, then release. Repeat a few times then focus on activating both knees.

    Shoulder Lift

    Elevating the shoulders while sitting cross legged. Neil Keleher. Sensational Yoga Poses.

    This is to help differentiate shoulder actions. With arms down and legs crossed, do a shoulder lift, lifting your shoulders as high as possible. Then relax and repeat.

    Shoulder Press Down

    Shoulders relaxed prior to depressing them. Neil Keleher. Sensational Yoga Poses.
    Depressing the Shoulders while sitting cross legged 1. Neil Keleher. Sensational Yoga Poses.

    Press your shoulders down, then relax and repeat.

    This is the opposite and counter action to the previous exercise.

    Cross Leg Lift up

    With hands on the floor, use your shoulders to press your hands into the floor. Then lift your hips, and then your knees. Release and repeat.

    Pressing the hands down, lifting the hips and the knees, feet still on the floor. Neil Keleher. Sensational Yoga Poses.

    Table Top

    Using Table top yoga pose as a knee strengthening exercise, first, pull your shoulder blades towards each other (retract) to lift your ribcage, then lift your hips. With hips lifted, press down through the outer edge of each foot. Additionally, activate the calfs and make the back of the knees feel strong. Release and repeat.

    Try to make both sides of the calf (outer and inner) feel strong, and try to make both sides of the back of each knee also feel strong.

    Table top yoga pose. Neil Keleher. Sensational Yoga Poses.

    Seated Get Up

    Here the seated get up is used as a knee strengthening exercise.

    For the seated get up, first practice lifting the hips.

    Seated get up (leg strengthening execise, squatting with one leg) Neil Keleher. Sensational Yoga Poses.
    Seated get up, leg lifted. Neil Keleher. Sensational Yoga Poses.

    Next, hold the hip lifted position and after pressing down through the outer edge of the top foot, activate the calf and the knee. Relax and repeat. Add the leg lift once you are comfortable with this activation.

    After repeating on both sides, stand up.

    Standing Work

    Standing Forward Bend

    For the first part of the standing work, bend forwards and place your hands on the floor or on a chair for a standing forward bend which is also a calf stretch. Lift one forefoot, pause, release and repeat on the other side. After lifting the forefoot, straighten the knee and optionally engage the calf.

    Standing forward bend, bending one foot upwards. Neil Keleher. Sensational Yoga Poses.
    Standing forward bend, both forefeet lifted. Neil Keleher. Sensational Yoga Poses.
    Standing forward bend balancing on heels with hands lifted. Neil Keleher. Sensational Yoga Poses.

    Next, to balance while forward bending, lift both forefeet, shift your weight back. Lift your hands. Release and repeat.

    Half Moon

    Half moon pose can also be used as a knee strengthening exercise. With hand on the floor, lift your standing heel. Then activate calf and the back of the knee. Pause, release and repeat.

    half moon yoga positon. Neil Keleher. Sensational Yoga Poses.
    half moon yoga position with hand lifted. Neil Keleher. Sensational Yoga Poses.
    Half moon with heel and hand lifted, balancing on forefoot. Neil Keleher. Sensational Yoga Poses.

    Optionally, try lifting the hand after lifting the heel.

    Front Triangle Forward Bend

    For front triangle forward bend (or parsvokonasana or reverse prayer without the prayer), bend forwards and place your hands on the floor or on yoga blocks. Focus on the front foot, press down through your forefoot, engage the calf, then the back of the knee. Then bend your elbows to lift your hands. Relax and repeat. Press down with the forefoot just enough to help stabilize the foot. Shift your hips left or right so that you can lift both hands at the same time.

    Triangle pose with arms reaching past head. Neil Keleher. Sensational Yoga Poses.
    Twisting triangle pose. Neil Keleher. Sensational Yoga Poses.

    Triangle Twist

    For Twisting Triangle pose, the focus again is on the front leg and strengthening the knee.

    After bending forwards and twisting, press through the front foot forefoot, then activate calf and knee (the back of) From there lengthen your spine and deepen the twist (or try to.) Work slowly and smoothly on this exercise and all previous actions.

    A Note on Using the Calf for Knee Stability

    When activating the calf in the above exercises, and in general, for knee stability, work at creating even tension in both sides (outer and inner) of the calf. You may find that it feels like you are pulling your calf muscles towards your heel.

    Also work at creating even tension in both sets of tendons at the back of the knee, the inner and outer sets. If you notice that one set is not activating then see if you can vary the way you activate your calves so that you do.

    If you are in the process of learning this routine, then you could take a rest here and review what you've learned so far by practicing the previous poses a few times. I'd suggest going as far as at least memorizing the actions, (activating the calf and the back of the knee) and even memorizing the sequence of poses, just for practice. Or finish part 2 before resting.

    Part 2 Lateral Standing Yoga Poses

    Part 2 focuses on lateral poses. Generally at this point if my class has mats facing forwards I ask them to turn there mats so that they are oriented from side to side.

    Standing Side Bend

    For Standing Side Bend start by pushing your hips to the left while bending your thoracic and lumbar spine to the right. You could think of this as a side bend for both hips and spine to the right.

    Standing side bend in blue swimsuite. Neil Keleher. Sensational Yoga Poses.

    You could experiment with adjusting the back front tilt of your pelvis by either lifting your tailbone (which I currently prefer) or dropping it. Try this particularly if you have any discomfort in your lower back, hips or knees. It may help.

    Using your inside foot (the right foot) push the floor to the right so that your hips push further to the left. Relax and repeat. Once comfortable with this basic action reach your arms past your head with elbows straight. Try to keep weight even on both feet as you push with the foot. Try lengthening your spine and arms away from your pelvis.

    Repeat on the other side.

    Triangle Pose

    For Triangle Pose step your feet about a leg's length apart. Doing the left side first, turn your right foot slightly inwards and turn your right foot out 90 degrees. Drop your right hip so that your pelvis tilts to the side. You can rest your hand on your thigh or shin or the floor.

    Triangle pose with bottom hand resting on shin.  Neil Keleher. Sensational Yoga Poses.
    Triangle pose with arms reaching to the side. To turn this into a knee strengthening exercise, activate calfs and make back of the knees feel strong. Neil Keleher. Sensational Yoga Poses.

    Sequencing the leg actions, first focus on the back foot and press the outer edge into the floor, then activate the calf and the back of the knee. Keep the back foot active. Then press the forefoot of the front foot into the floor and activate the calf and the back of the knee.

    Relax and repeat a few times, then add the arms.

    After activating both feet lift the bottom hand and reach it to the side, (the top arm can already be reaching past the head). Squeeze the forearms and elbows, then put the bottom hand down and relax and repeat.

    Repeat the hand lifting action about three times then do the other side.

    Side Angle Yoga Pose

    For Side Angle Yoga Pose step the feet slightly wider than they where in triangle pose. Doing the left side first, turn your right foot in slightly and your left foot out 90 degrees. Tilt the pelvis to the left (tilt your torso and pelvis to the left together, as one unit) then bent the left knee so that the shin is vertical. Step your feet wider or narrower as necessary so that you can make your shin vertical, your thigh almost horizontal while keeping the sideways tilt in the pelvis.

    Side angle pose, with a focus on knee strengthening using the calfs. Neil Keleher. Sensational Yoga Poses.

    Focusing on the front leg first this time, press the forefoot and side of the foot into the floor (without lifting the inside of the heel or forefoot!) then activate calf and back of the knee.

    Keeping the front foot active, press the outer edge of the back foot into the floor, then activate the back of the calf and knee.

    Repeat these actions a few times (relax then re-activate) if necessary, then add an arm lift. With your top arm already reaching past the ear, lift your bottom hand and reach it to the side.

    I forgot to mention, if you are just getting used to this pose then rest your forearm on your thigh. If you are a bit more strong in this pose you can press your hand into the floor while resting the legs.

    After activating the legs, relax the arm and/or shoulder, then lift it and reach it. Then with arms reaching past the ears you can optionally activate forearms and elbows again.

    Repeat on the other side and then move to the floor for the next pose, Side Plank.

    Part 2, Side Plank and Knee Balancing Set

    For the next set of poses, side plank, the initial focus is on stabilizing the arm and shoulder.

    Side Plank Shoulder and Arm Preparation Exercises

    In the Side Plank prep position with knees bent and hips on the floor, you can practice using your shoulder in isolation to lift your chest. As you do so notice how, in order to lift your chest, your hand presses into the floor.

    Side plank on knees, prep position with hips down and shoulder relaxed.  Neil Keleher. Sensational Yoga Poses.
    Side plank on knees, hips down with shoulder active so that chest is lifted (hand pushes into flooor). Neil Keleher. Sensational Yoga Poses.

    Another action you can practice is pressing the heel of the palm into the floor as you use your shoulder to lift your chest.

    Try to do this with minimal lifting of the front of the hand and/or fingers...

    Yes another action is to activate the forearm and elbow. Try this action both before using the shoulder to lift the chest and afterwards.

    Side Plank with Knees Bent

    For this next Side Plank exercise, try to position your knees so that your knees, hips and torso are in one line when viewed from the side. (Get as close as possible.)

    Using your shoulder, press the heel of your hand into the floor. Then activate forearm and elbows.

    Then lift your hips and reach the free hand up to the ceiling. Stay aware of your hand, forearm and elbow.

    Side plank on knees, shoulder relaxed, hips down. Neil Keleher. Sensational Yoga Poses.
    Side plank on knees, shoulder active, hips down. Neil Keleher. Sensational Yoga Poses.
    Side plank on knees, shoulder active, hips lifted. Neil Keleher. Sensational Yoga Poses.

    (Optionally, stay aware of your shoulder. Focus on whichever you feel needs the most work. You can vary this from practice to practice.)

    Lower and relax and repeat. Try pausing in the lifted position for a few breaths.

    Repeat on the other side.

    Side Plank Using the Top Leg

    For the next exercise, Side Plank Using the Top Leg start in a kneeling position with hips lifted facing the left. Reach your top leg (right leg) back. Straighten it and place the inner edge of the foot on the floor so that the knee faces forwards. Place your left hand on the floor.

    Side plank using the top leg. The bottom knee is bent and lifted off of the floor. Neil Keleher. Sensational Yoga Poses.

    For this exercise, press the hand into the floor strongly. Then press your top foot into the floor, strongly. Then lift your bottom knee.

    After you've done this a few times, work towards pressing the hand and foot into the floor with enough pressure so that as you lift the foot you don't have to further brace them. Think of the foot and hand pressing actions as "pre-bracing" the body.

    Repeat a few times, then before doing the other side move on to the next exercise.

    Lateral Knee Balancing Pose

    This could be called a Knee Balance. With your bottom knee pressing into the floor, try to lift your hand and then your foot and balance on your knee.

    Knee balance with body turned to facing the side. (Can be done after side plank using top leg). Neil Keleher. Sensational Yoga Poses.

    What you could try doing is lifting the foot first, keep the hand on the floor and balance.

    Then shift to the foot, put it on the floor and lift your hand.

    See-saw back and forwards between balancing on the knee and hand and balancing on the knee and foot, then as you make the transition from one position to the other, see if you can pause briefly in the middle with both hand and foot lifted.

    Work at gradually extending the duration of your pauses while balanced.

    Then repeat the Side Plank and Knee Balance on the other side.